Value Varietals
Tasted: 506 I Reviewed: 178
Merlot
Tasted: 88 I Reviewed: 29
American New Releases
Tasted: 226 I Reviewed: 100
Imported New Releases
Tasted: 280 I Reviewed: 144
Total
Tasted: 1100 I Reviewed: 451


Here's how we earn our keep: tasting more than 500 value-priced wines, so you don't have to. Sure, a wine-taster's life isn't so bad, sampling some of the grčner veltliners and rieslings from Austria's heady 2001 vintage (p.96), vetting the top-flight Riojas (p. 201) to separate the super-modern from the spicy and traditional, luxuriating in the 2000 cabernets from Washington's Red Mountain and Napa's Diamond Mountain (p. 107), or exploring the plummy depths of newly released merlots (p. 93). So it wasn't all hard work.

That came when trying to distinguish among the inexpensive chardonnays aged with wood chips in the midst of finer chardonnay values (p. 80) aged more delicately on the lees, seeking out the fresh, crisp-lined sauvignons (p. 82) in flights surrounded by the fat and flabby, or sorting through black jam and green wood to find a selection of ageworthy, rich and balanced cabernets for under $15 (p. 85). It was certainly easier to find some exceptional values among more esoteric regional wines, which we list under their rather cryptic varietal name, or as blends (the top whites on p. 84, and some remarkable reds, starting on p. 90). Some of these may be big brands with plenty of wine to go around, but others are more limited, either in production or in the quantities imported, so stock up now while they're all newly released.

For complete stats on this issue's tasting section, see our table of contents (p. 6). And for an overview of how we conduct our tastings, always blind, in our offices, with outside panelists to recommend the wines and inside critics to give the ratings and reviews, please turn to page 81.